TOMORROW’S Guinness PRO12 semi-final at the RDS will be a hugely significant one for Tadhg Beirne, as the Scarlets second-row returns to face his old club Leinster for the second time in the 2016/17 season.
Since making his big switch last summer, the Eadestown man has become a key figure for the Welsh side – and has made a total of 16 first-team appearances in the PRO12 under head coach Wayne Pivac.
After biding his time in the early weeks of the campaign, Beirne has established himself as a regular starter in recent months, and he believes that the Anglo-Welsh Cup gave him a chance to show what he was capable of.
“I didn’t start the way I would have liked, and didn’t get into the team as much as I would have liked. Obviously the Anglo-Welsh Cup over here gave me a good opportunity to showcase my ability,” Beirne remarked.
“I got an opportunity against Leinster at home and played well. Since then I haven’t really looked back. Jake [Ball] had a kid and Aaron Shingler had a kid. Then obviously Dave Bulbring picked up that shoulder injury. There was a bit of luck involved, but I’d like to think I took the opportunities well. Since then, I’ve really enjoyed my rugby.”
Despite winning the British & Irish Cup with the Leinster ‘A’s back in 2013, Beirne found it difficult to break into the first-team set-up during his time with the Blues. He admits it was frustrating that he couldn’t push on from the adductor injury he sustained while in the Academy, but is grateful that Leo Cullen gave him some much-needed opportunities in his final season with the province.
“I had a pretty stressful time in Leinster. My first year in the Academy went really well and things were looking really good, and then obviously I picked up that adductor injury – and it took me a long time to recover from it. In that period, a lot of people passed me out.
“From that perspective, it was frustrating. I have no regrets in staying there, but in hindsight, I could have left earlier. In that last year, I had to work really hard to stay on, and Leo [Cullen] gave me another chance. That gave me the opportunity then to come here, so there’s no regrets at all, because I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Leinster.”
One of only four defeats for Leinster in the PRO12 this season came in an away meeting with Scarlets on 25 November of last year, but they gained revenge with an outstanding 45-9 victory over the Llanelli outfit at the RDS just over two months ago.
It is expected that both teams will have drastically different line-ups for this latest encounter in the Ballsbridge venue, and Beirne believes they can’t dwell too much on how that game developed.
“The last time we were there, we didn’t really stick to out game-plan as much as we would have liked. We had a good first-half, and then with how strong Leinster are. Especially in the second half of the season, they have really been kicking on.
“They outplayed us then, but I think going into this game, we know what they’re about and we know how strong they are. With the way we have been playing, we can’t really dwell on that scoreline too much, because we had a different team out and we’ve been playing really good rugby since then.”
Beirne will come face-to-face with a number of his own county men tomorrow, including PRO12 Young Player of the Year, Joey Carbery. The Athy youngster has enjoyed a whirlwind 12 months since securing the Ulster Bank League title with Clontarf, and as a winner of the competition in 2013 and 2015 with Lansdowne, Beirne believes it was hugely important towards his own development as a player.
“Lansdowne was massive for me and my development. From the U20s all the way up to the seniors. Between Declan Fassbender and Mike Ruddock, they both taught me a lot. Obviously won a lot with them – two All-Irelands.
“Just getting the game time you need when you’re not getting selected for your province, it’s hugely important back home. You can see that from Joey [Carbery] and especially the boys I played with – Matt Healy, Craig Ronaldson and Heffo [Dave Heffernan]. They’re all in Connacht now and playing really well. It just shows how good that league is.”
With four starts in the European Rugby Champions Cup (including a draw with eventual champions Saracens in January) also under his belt, Beirne’s move to the Scarlets has certainly helped to raise his profile. A potential return to the Irish system could boost his chances of an international call-up, but with another year left on Scarlets contract, he isn’t looking too far into the future.
“I’m taking it as it comes. I need to focus on Scarlets. I can’t jump ahead and think internationally or anything like that, because I’ve only just broken into the first team this year.
“I have another year with Scarlets, so I’ll just see how that goes. We’ll go into contract discussions then I’m sure. I’m not looking that far into the future, if I’m being honest,” Beirne added.